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Candidates for governor talk -- and attack -- on crime and other issues

March 24, 2010 |  6:19 pm

It was a law enforcement day Wednesday for the three major candidates for governor.

Republicans Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown all spoke to the Alliance of California Law Enforcement's 2010 Legislative Day at the Sheraton in Sacramento.

Whitman and Brown each won endorsements for their primary (though Brown has no serious Democratic opposition) from the California Peace Officers' Assn., a nearly 90-year-old professional group representing sheriffs, police chiefs and other law enforcement staff across the state.

The speeches highlighted some stark differences between the Republicans and the Democrat – and showed that Brown, who previously asked unions to attack on his behalf, is ready to do it for himself.

Poizner and Whitman talked about moving away from defined pension benefits for most state workers, but Brown said that would mean "the destruction of the pension system." Whitman says she would fix prison overcrowding without "early release" for inmates or changes in state sentencing laws, by shipping more prisoners out of state and launching new construction in the state.

"We have got to build more prisons in California," she said.

Brown, who was governor when the state removed flexibility from sentencing with the "indeterminate" system the state has today, said the law should be adjusted to give some inmates incentives to get out earlier if they improve themselves, and to keep the worst ones locked up for longer than they are now. And he wouldn't build any more prisons.

"I'd like to see how we can make the ones we have work better," Brown said. "It is gross misrepresentation to say you're going to cut taxes, you're going to somehow build more prisons, and you're not going to cut the university …. When you build a prison that costs money, then when you put people in it, it costs money…. So this is more of this kind of snake oil math that will not solve the problem."

The retort from Whitman spokeswoman Sarah Pompei: "In Jerry Brown's world everything requires a tax hike; that's been the problem with him, and that's been the problem with Sacramento." (Brown has not advocated raising taxes without voter approval.)

The Republicans talked about cracking down on illegal immigration. Poizner would end all benefits for illegal immigrants, while Whitman talked about clamping down on the border and punishing employers who hire illegal immigrants. Both Republicans say they are against amnesty for illegal immigrants in the country now.

Brown said that is pandering.

"I don't think they are proposing exiling 4 million people, rounding them up and putting them on trucks," he said. "They haven't said that. I really would like to hear what is the Poizner-Whitman plan. [President] George Bush, [Sen. John] McCain, the late Senator [Ted] Kennedy all wanted some kind of immigration reform. Yes, protect our border, yes enforce the law …. [but] I'm not going to scapegoat immigrants and public servants and poor people just to get these Republican candidates elected."

A few other Brown attack lines against Whitman, the former chief executive of EBay.

On being a career politician versus being a businessperson:

"Preparation for governor is not something they can get by being a private – what do they call it? – CEO …. When you're a CEO you can pick oftentimes key people to your board of directors. As governor, you don't pick the Legislature. The people pick the Legislature … and their job is not to make you look good or to follow your orders."

On Whitman's $46 million (so far) in campaign spending, although most of it hasn't been directed at him (yet):

"I'm concerned about a democracy that can be bought, you know, like Corn Flakes or a used car, and we are facing an unprecedented purchase and takeover of the public airways in California. I will fight back."

Whitman said Wednesday that she had decided to "invest" in the campaign "to get our message out to voters about my capabilities, my plan for California. And I think voters are really smart. They will make a decision about whether they want me to be the governor of California or not."

--Michael Rothfeld in Sacramento

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